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Stephen Strasburg's season might not get better

By Al Melchior | Data Analyst

Maybe Stephen Strasburg isn't better than his 3.68 ERA after all. (USATSI)
Maybe Stephen Strasburg isn't better than his 3.68 ERA after all. (USATSI)

By all outward appearances, Stephen Strasburg should be a Fantasy ace -- a top 10 starting pitcher who belongs in the discussion for the top five. He is striking out 10.7 batters per nine innings and rarely walks more than two batters per start. And while he's not exactly a ground ball pitcher, he's no Jake Odorizzi either.

With a profile like that, we would rightfully expect Strasburg's ERA to be well under 3.00, and xFIP agrees, estimating that it should be 2.64 after taking defense and luck into account. Instead, Strasburg owns a 3.68 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, and he ranks 26th in Rotisserie value and 28th in standard Head-to-Head points leagues.

At the root of Strasburg's seemingly inflated stats is a .347 BABIP, and that is normally a sign of bad luck. In this case, it just might mean that, when hitters aren't whiffing at Strasburg's offerings, they're clobbering them. Between a 27 percent line drive rate and an average flyball distance that is among the longest in the majors, Strasburg's stats don't look so fluky. According to BaseballHeatMaps.com, he is one of only six qualifying starting pitchers who has allowed an average flyball distance of at least 285 feet against both right-handed and left-handed hitters. Those inclined to view Strasburg skeptically can note that four of the others in that group are Brandon McCarthy, Dan Haren, Miguel Gonzalez and Brad Peacock. Those who want to be encouraged can note Masahiro Tanaka's inclusion.

It's not clear why Strasburg has been hit around, as his fastball velocity and spin rate are down from last season (per TexasLeaguers.com) but only slightly, and there has been no discernable loss of movement. Even without a clear explanation, there are enough warning signs to caution anyone who might be viewing Strasburg as a buy-low option.

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